Start a new fall family tradition: stargaze together!
There’s something about the season of fall that makes it special. Maybe it’s the chill that creeps into the air as the sun goes down, the shrinking hours of daylight (in the Northern Hemisphere, anyway), the changing leaves in the air and on the ground in shades of yellow, orange and red.
Even if this time of year doesn’t look quite like a Norman Rockwell painting where you live, it’s a great time to start a new family tradition. With the new school year underway and activities happening, family life can get rather busy between now and the holiday season (which is only a couple of months away, if you can believe it!). What better time to set aside an evening to do something special together?
One of my favorite things to do with my family in the chilly fall evenings is to stargaze in our backyard. This has been an excellent way for us to get away from usual distractions, clump together in the dark with some blankets, and enjoy the gift of time together in God’s creation.
Since it gets dark earlier in the fall, it feels easier at this time of year to include even the younger members of our family (who have earlier bedtimes) in stargazing.The constellations in the autumn sky are some of the easiest to identify with the naked eye. You can see a lot just by looking up with your eyes- you don’t need a telescope or binoculars to enjoy the night sky. Here are some resources that will help you get your bearings:
Information on family stargazing, including a printable star wheel:
Fun space facts to share with your kids when looking at the sky together:
Tips for beginner stargazers:
Some of our favorite books to help you get started:
- The Boy Scouts of America Deck of Stars: A glow-in-the-dark set of flashcards with lots of information about constellations and other objects in the sky and how to find them.
- The Usborne Spotter's Guide to The Night Sky- lots of good diagrams and a handy calendar to help you find your way in the sky at any time of year.
- The Stargazer's Guide to the Galaxy by Q.L. Pearce- comes with a star wheel to help you navigate, plus detailed information on all the major constellations and the most visible stars within them.
- Glow in the Dark Constellations by C.E. Thompson- a great introduction for anyone, but written in simple language with simple pictures that are especially great for kids. The pictures of constellations have glow in the dark dots to help you find the stars, which is very helpful for practicing inside and when you head out to look at the sky.
- Zoo in the Sky and Once Upon A Starry Night by Jacqueline Mitton are beautiful books with simple retellings of the stories and legends behind the most popular constellations. The gorgeous illustrations by Christina Balit make these books truly special. They're great for learning some stories to entertain everyone while you search the skies for stars and planets.
- Stikky Night Skies- a truly unique book that walks you through finding your first stars and constellations in the night sky in a way that is fun to learn and almost impossible to forget.
The stars are a lovely example of God’s handiwork, and they show up many times in Scripture. In addition to the most obvious places (the story of how God would make Abraham’s descendants more numerous than the stars, or how the Magi followed the star to find the baby Jesus), there are many other references, like these:
Psalm 19:1- The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.
Psalm 147:4 - He determines the number of the stars; he gives to all of them their names.
Psalm 148:3 - Praise him, sun and moon; praise him, all you shining stars!
Psalm 33:6- By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, and all their host by the breath of his mouth.
If you want to try stargazing with your family this fall, here are a few tips based on our experience:
- Pick a spot away from trees and city lights, if you can. The darker it is, the easier it will be to see the stars. If you are hunting for specific constellations, trees along the horizon can make it more challenging to find your target.
- Get comfy. The best way to see something is to look up at the sky. While you can do this standing up, it only takes a minute before it starts to get uncomfortable! Try putting down a tarp (to protect against moisture) and some blankets to keep everyone warm and just lying down on the ground. As an alternative, you can use reclining lawn chairs. The more comfortable you are, the more likely this will be a positive memory for your family.
- Send everyone to the bathroom before you go out. There’s nothing quite like getting comfortably settled in the perfect spot, snuggling up, passing out the hot chocolate and then hearing a small voice say, “I have to go NOW!”
- Take along resources that will help you find your way. Star maps or sky finders can be helpful. There are also some great apps that help locate planets and stars…just be sure you don’t end up spending all your time looking at your phone instead of the sky. If you take a flashlight, be sure to cover the lens with red cellophane or plastic to cut down on the glare.
- Bring something to eat and drink. Even if you’re only going to be out for a little while, chances are that someone will get hungry. If your family is anything like mine, having food along increases the chances that everyone will have fun for a little bit longer. For extra fun, try some snacks that are space-themed (Moon Pies, anyone?).
- Consider your timing. If you plan a marathon sky-watching session your first time out, it’s not as likely to be successful and fun for everyone. It takes about 15 minutes for your eyes to adjust to the dark, though, so you want to be sure to give it a fair chance before heading inside. Try aiming for 20-30 minutes. If you’re all having a great time and want to stay out longer, you can! If it helps, you can bring some distractions for those with shorter attention spans…we like glow sticks from the dollar store or a favorite stuffed animal for the youngest members of our family.
- If all else fails, remember why you came. This is a chance to enjoy the majesty of God’s creation with the ones we love. Even if we can’t identify a single star or constellation, we can still enjoy each other and the beautiful sky God made.
Are you a stargazer? Do you share this activity with your family? What tips can you share with our readers on how to have a good family stargazing experience this fall?
Copyright 2015 Abbey Dupuy.
Photo copyright 2015 Abbey Dupuy. All rights reserved.